Thursday, August 11, 2005

So Harvest time begins…

I had my Mr. Mom day yesterday. This is the day that I get my chance to take care of Anya all by my lonesome. The way it works is that Tatyana heads up to the farm to pull weeds and collect what goodies are ready to be collected and I stay here and watch over our 7-month old. I love it. I love it and my constantly in-pain right knee loves it too. Don’t kid yourself: Farm work is really hard on the body. I did put in a great couple of day’s work earlier in the week. I mean, really pulled my weight, but I am still feeling it in several places. And that is not one of the good things.

But this morning we had the greatest stuff possible to start the day, fresh apple juice. The Juice Man is right folks, fresh fruit and vegetable juice is where it is at as far as feeling really good are concerned. That first hit simply tingles the spine and one’s outlook shifts faster than a Polkas decision to lie. It is about a half hours work walking around and picking up all of the fallen apples (and don’t forget carrying them home), but it is so worth it. Oh, such a great morning. We followed that juice with some boiled new potatoes and our local special beans smothered in a tomato/pepper sauce made from the residuals of the real sauce that we were preparing for winter. And speaking of that, what a great sauce it was. Most of our tomatoes are yet green but Tatyana pulled the ones which are showing signs of going off, about a half a bucket full, and cut away the nasty parts and we ran the rest through the juicer. The results were otherworldly. What was in it? Ok, so we had the green tomatoes and some peppers and carrots, garlic and onion. Add in a sugar beet and some herbs and spices and; oh mama mia, what a great sauce. Oh, and some hot pepper too, just for the yang. The yield was about two liters and change for use on some future pasta and thanks Lord, still, there is a lot more to come.

Oh, but harvest time is very a lot of work. Yes it is, especially without a proper vehicle. Last year we had to transport by bus all of our things, a great pain in the ass I must say. I have a hand cart if we start getting into serious carriage, say, anything over fifty kilos. Luckily, everything comes in at its own pace so you are not flooded with huge amounts of material every time. This will happen, especially when we start in with the cabbages and when we get ready to deal with the beans and beets, but for now we can cope. At the moment we are dealing with the new potatoes and tomatoes and also we are getting what I have mentioned in small amounts as well as some six and eight pound zucchinis. We could collect probably 300 kilos of beans right now, but as I said we do the long term thing and wait for them to finish before drying them. And really, that is what all of this is about. I mean, it is great to be able to suck down a huge amount fresh vegetable juice, but allowing that you might want some more come January is built into the deal. You have to do what you have to do to get by.

But yea baby, this time of year is an epicurean delight and even more so if you like to experiment. There are great amounts of food stuff, original and residual so there are lots of cool (sometimes) combinations available. It is ironic though that Russian culture likes to be pure and sauce-less for the most part, but they are. They like things straight, to the point and tasting the way they are supposed to taste. I hear the argument, but you know, I like a little flavor. You simply would have to have tasted that sauce!

And so basically, this is what is going on these days. Two to three times a week we put in one or two, sometimes three 8-10 hour days trying to keep things orderly and then we come home with 30 or forty pounds of fresh produce. Wish it was this simple all the time but its not. There are other problems that we have. Yes, money problems. Deep and serious problems that show no signs of ebbing. It is very much a good thing that we have this farm. I frankly do not know how I would be able to feed everybody without it.

And as far as that thought goes. I absolutely know that the whole of the country pretty much is in the same boat as myself. And, the economic necessity that drives this way of life has been around these parts forever. Those sorts of old world secrets about saving food may be quaint and all but here they are still very much in use and very much a part of life here. And this thought to me is both interesting and humbling as well.

I have been thinking about this in conjunction with this “Do I like Lukashenka” essay I have been working on. When I am up at the village and I speak to the locals there, in general they all approve of and support the president. Yes, you heard me correctly and you need to know this. Without the slightest hint of fear and with the most basic reasons to back up their opinions, they love, support and respect the man. I’m sorry if you thought you had some unanimous opposition thing going on but you don’t. Now, why is this so? Well, to state it as succinctly as I can it is because he allows them to continue with their lives as they have always lived it. They have been doing this one-acre subsistence gardening thing their whole lives. This is how they live and, if you apply a true demographic, Belarus has more than half its population doing exactly this.

But this life is hard right? It is a lot of work. Maybe they would rather be doing something else. No they don’t. Why not? Because they re old, and because they have been doing this forever. Why do they like Lukashenka? If you ask, they will tell you: It is because life is calm, we are left alone, our pensions are absolutely enough for us and nobody is giving us any problems.

But that can’t be, can it? Do you mean to say that you think $80 or $100 a month is enough? Yes they do. The pensions for the most part cover the bread and cooking oil, and the maybe 5-$10 they pay for the land. And electricity. I mean, you got to watch TV. It would be nice to be rich, but almost to a soul they would all simply rather be allowed to do their thing. And yes, they do that that thing of theirs quite well, thank you. How? Well, most of my neighbors raise two pigs a year and almost all of them have a cow, some chickens and maybe a goat or two or three. But the pigs are the meat staple. If they have a larger family, they may raise three or even four pigs and they take them, doing all of the butchering themselves of course after about a year. Each one-year-old pig yields about 100 kilos of meat and fat, maybe, and this is enough, if you stretch it out, to keep everyone going. If you ask, the state will allow a parcel of extra garden space roughly equal to what you own and most villagers use this to raise either white beets or more potatoes or wheat. This extra field might yield maybe four tons of food stuff which feeds the animals and the family just fine. And you know, it is not really a question of whether or not they are happy, but rather whether or not they are allowed to live. And along with that thought, as they all do have that television, you know, they are really not all that much different from anybody.

So, if you can see the point that I am trying to make here, who is to say that, and this is strictly speaking in financial terms now, who is to say that being obligated to 100’s of thousands of dollars in debt on cracker board houses is the meaning of life? Who’s to say that needing to spend ludicrous mounts of money on inanities just to satisfy one’s ego’s dementias is a better way to spend one’s God-given time? But are they happy? you ask. Do they have freedom? you may wonder. Are you? Do you?

And this is where I am struggling with all of this political crap I have been into lately. I mean, just for a second, let’s pretend that the politicians know or at least remember that they are supported in their lives by the taxes of the people who live within their jurisdiction. And let us also remember for a second that people are supposed to be able to at least have the possibility of some happiness in their lives. If this is so, and I certainly hope that you can see that what I just said better be true, than why must the world be so completely and mercilessly apposed someone who has done nothing but simply protect the way of life of more than half the population of his country, which is exactly what Lukashenka has been doing. And I may add, this was exactly what was asked of him when he first started.

But this is not to say that I am going to vote yes. I am not saying this at all. All I am saying is that thank God I have a place where I can grow a major percentage of my family’s food. That I like doing this may be one thing but that we need to do it is another. And that we can, even without a car is yet another. But I'm trying real hard, Ringo, real hard.

So what I am saying is that this “Do I like the president of Belarus” article is a difficult thing to write. It is difficult because the arguments involved are not so easy to deal with as you may think. But I am working on it. Thank g-d I have some fresh apple juice to keep me going. And, and this is if I am able to deal with the next few weeks without getting tossed, one great thing is that I am going to have a lot of this cool food stuff happening every two or three days for the next two to three months. A great time of year to be alive. So maybe the real question is not whether or not this life is good or if it is bad but rather: Is a moment such as this something worthy enough to be thought of as “Something to look forward to?”.

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